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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  November 29, 2010 2:50am-3:30am EST

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destination. how does this happen? how do intelligent, conscientious people, miss what is in front of them? it has to do with the way our brains process information. tonight we'll prove that you
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can't always believe what you see and what you hear. and you'll have a chance to put yourself to the test. it all comes down to the fact that at any given time our brains are bombarded by all kinds of sights, sounds, and smells. many happening all at the same time and it is impossible to consciously think about them all at once so the brain is designed to filter out the information it thinks is unnecessary for the task at hand. sometimes there is an error in the process. happens to all of us one time or another. think it couldn't happen to you? don't be so sure. consider this. while i was just speaking you were probably focused on what i was saying processing the information. perhaps you were watching closely as i assembled the model of a brain. but there was a lot more going on that you might not have noticed. let's roll back the tape. did you notice anything change while i was talking? first, watch the color of my
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coat. here it's tan. now dark blue. now watch my tie. first it's dotted then it's striped. look closely at my shirt. it goes from pink to blue. finally, look at the background behind me. it starts off black, then changes to dark red. if you miss the changes you might be surprised why. >> it has nothing to do with the intelligence and education. >> we hired the editor of "skeptics" magazine to help explain why our brains sometimes deceive us. >> it has to do with our emotional brains that really it turns out run a lot more of our behavior than we like to acknowledge. we are pretty irrational. >> shermer says there are many ways our brains can play tricks on us and like the illustration above it has to do with the way our eyes take in information. >> nancy. how are you? >> we invite a group of people to this theater and ask them to do several tasks.
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first we had them look at some photos. it's a test to see if they'll see what's truly in front of them or will their brains trick them? >> what do you think about this one? >> you at home can follow along. take a good look at this picture. what do you see? >> i immediately thought it was a woman's butt but just as soon as i thought that my mind tried to see it as something else. >> it looks like she's coming out of the shower and has like velvet pants that she's pulling off. >> just about everyone in the audience saw a woman's back side. what are we really looking at? >> a famous shoe ad. that's just two feet side by side, the heels. >> give us the wide shot. >> why do we see something titillating when it's just part of the foot? dr. shermer says because the brain is always on the lookout for something it can easily recognize. >> the way the brain works is we have models in our brain of the way the world is and as the data
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comes in we force it to fit the model. >> what do you see when you look at this? >> i thought i was looking at maybe an actress back in the '20s or '30s. >> most of the audience saw the face of a woman. >> do you know what it really is? >> grilled cheese sandwich. >> oh! >> appearance phase is usually the first thing we can make out when we're born and dr. shermer tells us that impulse to recognize the pattern of a face continues as one of our most primal instincts. >> you can't help but see the face. you only need to see three points to see a face. this sandwich sold on ebay. i've seen it. it's under glass. >> it can be very amusing but turns serious when we add special importance to things that aren't there to begin with. >> we see ufos, conspiracies, we
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find patterns, meaning, belief. we can't not believe things. >> for instance what if someone wanted to exploit our tendency to see patterns for religious purposes? what do you see? >> i see a distorted mother teresa. >> once she points out that it looks like mother teresa most of the audience sees it, too. >> it's a cinnamon bun. >> discovered by a tennessee baker in 1996. who has since put it on a t-shirt. get the t-shirt of it and so that -- a lot of people flocked to his bakery shop. this was in the news, a big story for a while. >> in this one many people see the face of jesus. >> here is the beard and the long hair and nose and eyes. >> now that we've mentioned it do you see it, too? >> a tooth filling, a large x-ray. >> the ability to see patterns with our eyes is one thing but
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combine what you see with what you're hearing and watch what happens. >> i want to know what you think of the song. >> follow with the studio audience. we've asked them to listen to this new age song with creepy lyrics. >> here we go. ♪ >> well, probably not the cheeriest song in the world maybe. >> i really liked the sound of the music that it was interesting to me and i don't know. i could listen to that at home you about words then creeped me out. >> several audience members said they were bothered by the lyrics. >> some of you heard references to satan. but they're in for a surprise because what they were hearing weren't lyrics at all. it was just noise. in fact, it was actually one of the greatest rock songs of all time "stairway to heaven" played backwards yet when printed words are shown along with the
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backwards music the brain tries to fit the words it is seeing with the sounds it's hearing. ♪ and she's buying a stairway to heaven." >> what's going on here is a bunch of noises but by priming everybody with the visual then the audio pattern kicks right in and you hear those particular words. >> with the words up there were you actually able to hear those references in the song? >> yes. >> soet power of suggestion can be so strong you can hear words that don't exist and if we're able to fool ourselves, it should be no surprise that others can fool us, too. >> this is how con artists operate. that's how we get suck erd into things. we're just talked into seeing the world in a different way. go! >> we'll be showing you more illusions. they may look like they're playing basketball. is that all that's going on? >> didn't see it again?
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how is that possible? >> coming up later we dive into the dating pool. would you notice if your dream date suddenly turned into someone else? >> i am really sorry. >> sorry. a love match with a catch when "did you see that" continues. with new mom programs, lysol healthy habits initiatives in schools and disaster relief efforts. when you use lysol at home, you'll know you're a part of something bigger. for healthy tips and more, visit lysol.com/missionforhealth. [ record scratches ] ...and over [ record scratches ] probably isn't giving results you want. discover neosporin® lip health™. shown to restore visibly healthier lips in just 3 days. neosporin® lip health™. rethink your lip care.
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all right. we'll have one more little task for you here to do. >> dr. shermer, a psychologist, is working with our studio audience to try to illustrate how our brain can be so focused on one task it will block out what's right in front of us. >> this is a live performance. we actually have a real basketball team here. it's called the 46 nyc, a charity basketball group. >> there are four players dressed in white shirts and four in black shirts. >> this side of the room you're going to count out loud the number of passes of the four black shirted team members and this side of the room is going to count the number of passes of the four white shirted team players. you're counting out loud. >> you can try this at home. try to count the number of passes the white shirt team makes. >> you guys ready? go. ♪
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one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12. 13, 14. 15, 16. 17. 18. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. >> stop! that's it. all right. excellent. how did they do? >> how many did you count? >> how many did you guys get? >> 18. >> how about this side? >> 25. >> 26? >> everyone was so busy counting passes, most missed something right before their eyes. and did anybody see anything unusual in the middle of the
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scene? show of hands. one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12 out of our 40 or so. >> did you at home see anything unusual? >> surprise of you to learn that there was a man who walked right across the middle, spun around, and waved to you all? >> that man was me. so raise your hands if you didn't notice me walking through the basketball players. >> wow. >> so you didn't see that great disco turn from the '70s? i thought it was pretty good. there were a few who did see me. for everyone else, we play it back. amazingly, one woman doesn't see me the second time either. so somebody didn't see it on the tape? oh, you didn't see it again? how is that possible? do you consider yourself an observant person? >> apparently not. >> all right. it may seem surprising but a researcher at the university of illinois has been studying this
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phenomenon for years. >> psychology, dan simons' "an intentional blindness" research. it's important research because it shows our brains are finely tuned when you are instructed to do so to focus on one thing and you are likely to miss something obvious. >> so many folks were intently focused on counting. >> yes. >> they didn't even see me waltz through the room and do a turn-round. >> it can have serious consequences. remember the airline pilots who thought they could check their new flying schedules on their lap tops and still keep an eye on the plane's controls? instead, they flew past their destination. >> that's an example of this inattentional blindness where you are attending to one thing so focused that you miss something big like the alarms going off or just look out the window. >> what happens when you are so focused on texting while driving? >> you miss the big picture. >> there are many ways you can miss the big picture. it's all about how our brains focus. consider this. a driver crashes into a
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motorcycle and swears she never saw it. even though the motorcycle was clearly visible. the driver's focus was on avoiding other cars. since she wasn't expecting to see a motorcycle, her brain blocked it out. and what about that fatal collision we mentioned earlier between an american submarine and japanese fishing vessel? even though the commander checked his periscope he never saw the ship directly above him. >> how could i not have seen it? how did i not know this vessel was here? >> turns out the commander had checked his instruments which indicated there were no ships in the area. he was so focused on that information that he missed what should have been clearly visible. how strange can it get? would you notice if a woman standing right in front of you suddenly turned into a man? don't be so sure. >> grand central. it's five blocks down. >> all right. >> coming up, there is something
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i immediately thought it was a woman's butt. >> we've been showing you how our eyes don't always take in what's right in front of us. how we can be tricked into missing key parts of the big picture. here is another example. >> excuse me. i'm sorry. can you help me? >> this woman amy is asking a random person on the street for directions. without warning, they're rudely interrupted by a gigantic poster of me. >> where is it? >> the man doesn't notice he's now speaking to a different person. >> it's six? >> 15 blocks that way. >> watch. we'll do it again. >> sorry. wow be able to get me to the empire state building? >> this time we asked a woman for directions. >> i think we're right here. let me see. >> after a few seconds, we make the switch. >> i'm sorry. keep going, which way? >> let me see. >> she doesn't notice either.
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okay. so maybe we are stacking the deck a bit. the women do have similar hair and are wearing the same dress. what will happen if we switch a blonde with a brunette who is wearing totally different clothes? >> do you know where the subway is, like if i go to grand central station, how do i get on there? >> here comes the poster and the women switch places. >> what am i doing here? >> this way. >> the stranger keeps on giving directions. >> her mind has already formed an image of what the person looks like and she is not expecting some other image to appear because it never happens in the real world so the brain processes that and moves on to the next thing. >> excuse me. can you help me? >> sure. >> i don't even need the map. tell me where air going. >> i need to go to grand central station. >> the next woman gets so annoyed about being interrupted by the poster. >> oh, wow. >> sorry. that was rude. >> can you, okay. can you tell me exactly where i'm going? >> okay.
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so -- >> she doesn't notice she is now talking to a woman who looks completely different. >> sir, can you help me? >> now let's really mix it up. a woman starts asking for directions. here comes the poster. >> wait. but where am i right now? >> oh. >> and now a man takes her place. our subject looks puzzled for a second. he continues to give directions. >> it's 50th street. grand central is five blocks down. >> all right. of course, not everyone was fooled. >> so you were saying? how do you get there? >> so you were saying? >> i think -- >> sorry. can you tell me where i'm going? >> where you're going? i have no clue where you're going. i know you interrupted a conversation i was having with that lady. that's okay.
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>> it could be size difference. it could be they were just looking at it a certain way or weren't paying attention to what was being said. they were noticing how the person was dressed and all of a sudden they're dressed differently. most people most of the time don't notice it. but every once in a while somebody does. >> now it's my turn to give it a try. >> excuse me. union square. how do i glet? >> union square. >> a dateline intern starts asking for directions. >> oh, i think -- >> sir? >> then i step in. will she notice i took his place? >> oh, my goodness. >> what? >> you're playing tricks on me. >> you noticed. you're pretty observant. >> yes, yes. >> you have to walk actually. >> what about this woman? 50th street. >> excuse me. sorry. >> she keeps right on giving directions. >> go that way. >> that way? >> yes. like two avenues. >> and this is the waldorf astoria? >> how is this possible? >> how many times does chris hansen suddenly appear in your
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scene stand bing before you? almost never. why would anybody expect that? this is the power of expectation. >> you're up here. >> we try it two more times. >> i'm sorry. what are you looking for? >> i was trying to get to the waldorf astoria. >> it's upside down. >> the man notices the map is now upside down but keeps giving directions even though i wasn't the person he started the conversation with. >> chris hansen with "dateline nbc." can i tell you something? >> okay. we're doing a social experiment. did you realize there was a switch? >> um -- >> not so sure. >> with my memory these days, i thought, you know -- >> you were being a good samaritan giving somebody directions. >> yes. >> looking for union square. >> one last time. >> i'm sorry. >> 14th street, union square. >> should i walk or take a cab? >> take a cab is faster. >> cab is faster? >> yeah. >> do you consider yourself a pretty observant person?
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did you realize that i'm not the first guy you were giving directions to, that when the poster came by we switched? >> oh, you fooled -- >> this is an example of change blindness where you do not expect something that big to happen in the environment, that kind of change, because that never happens. >> research behind this and other visual phenomena are described in a new book by dan simons and christopher shabris. they describe how our brain's inability to sometimes accurately interpret what it is seeing can be amusing but also have very serious consequences. imagine you're an eyewitness to a crime. would you be able to pick out the criminal? we'll be pulling people off the street to see how accurate they are. >> how positive are you? >> 100%. >> 100%. >> coming up -- >> can you sign this for me, please? >> we go retail with one surprising detail. >> thank you. i'm just going to get your
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you know how to get to union square? >> yes. >> we've been showing you how our eyes may not be as reliable as we think. >> actually from here i think -- >> while this example may be amusing what it can mean in the real world is no laughing matter. take the story of ronald cotton convicted of two rapes and burglaries in the mid 1980s. >> i picked out my rapist. >> after this woman picked him out of a lineup he was convicted and locked away for ten and a half years. it took dna evidence to prove his innocence. >> i'm here to tell you that eyewitnesses can make mistakes. >> this is a photo of the real rapist and this is a photo of the man wrongly accused. would you have made the same mistake? experts in this field say you probably would. >> we are not reliable memory machines. all of this information is flowing through our senses. 99% of it we just -- flows in and flows out. it's gone. >> to test the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, we are
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here to mail boxes, etcetera, in new york city, about to do another demonstration. just like the two men who resembled each other in that criminal case, we're using two "dateline" interns who also resemble each other but are clearly not twins. one woman is taller, has shorter hair. the other woman has freckles and her shirt is a different color. you probably think you could tell them apart but under the right circumstances we're betting you couldn't. just watch. >> hi. will you sign this, please? >> this woman has agreed to fill out a survey concerning the recent oil spill in the gulf of mexico. our first intern, blake, takes her form. >> thank you. let me just get your survey. >> then she drops down behind the counter to get a survey but she is not the person who pops back up. it is actually the other intern, sophia. >> okay. can you fill this out in the back room please? >> okay. thank you. >> did the woman notice she is now interacting with a totally different person?
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apparently not. >> hi. >> how about this man? >> would you mind signing this first, please? >> all right. sign my life away. >> no. okay. >> blake has him sign the consent form. >> thank you. i'm just going to get your survey. >> okay. >> and again she drops down and sophia appears. >> here is your $5. >> thank you. >> and survey? >> all right. >> can you just fill it out in the back please right around that corner there? >> he doesn't notice and it's not because he didn't look each woman straight in the eye. here he is looking right at blake and then when sophia takes her place, he looks right at her but his brain is simply not realizing they are two different women. >> okay. hi. >> this next woman we find out later is a harvard grad who scored a 1600 on her s.a.t.s. will that make a difference? >> how long does it take? >> she looks right at blake. >> thank you. i'm just going to get your survey. >> okay is it cool if i start mailing this stuff? >> then right at sophia.
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no reaction. >> if you could just fill it out around the back please. just right around the corner there. >> okay. thank you. >> hey. how are you? >> hi. >> i asked the harvard grad about her experience. what did you notice about the young woman at the counter when you walked in? anything at all? >> not really. >> and as is often done in criminal cases i show her a photo lineup and ask if she can pick out the woman she just saw in the other room? >> i'm going to go with her first choice and her second choice. >> she picks blake first then sophia. >> you are absolutely right. except about one thing. there were actually two different women. one actually took the document, bent down, and it was a different woman who stood up. >> really? >> you picked the right two. >> whoa. >> you just didn't realize there were two different women. >> two different people. hi. i'm sophia. >> so we introduce her to the
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two women. >> so does it surprise you seeing them together that you didn't tell the difference? >> it surprises me now, yes. >> we try it again. >> hi. can you sign this please? >> this man signs the form. >> let me get your survey. thank you. >> great. i have your survey here. $5. can you fill this out in the back for me please? >> no problem. just go around? >> yep. >> and has no clue that the women switched. do you think you would recognize the young woman to whom you talked at the counter? >> yes, i would, i think. >> how convinced are you? >> 80% chance. >> jack, will you look at a lineup? >> sure. i would say top left corner. >> he picks sophia the second woman he spoke to. >> did you see anything strange while you were talking to the young woman? did you notice anything? >> no. >> well let me tell you something, jack. this was the first woman

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